Life on the Moon

In South Central Idaho, there is a landscape that seems so out of this world it is called Craters of the Moon.

It is marked by broken and jagged beds of lava mixed with volcanic cinder cones and rock formations jutting up eerily from the lava plain. The rough and cratered surface of this place was used by some U.S. astronauts to train before their moon landings.

Climbing a cinder cone.

It is just one of the many outcroppings of volcanic activity on the Snake River plain in Idaho.

This might seem to be an inhospitable place for growing things because of the desert surroundings, the cold climate. Yet life thrives here. The life impulse is so strong in some of the livings things that it cannot be denied by solid rock.

The lichens that help break down the rocks, along with sagebrush, pine trees and other plant life dot the landscape, even growing out of the lava plain. Animal life is abundant. Take a hike on one of this national monument’s trails and you might find yourself following deer tracks.

The life-fostering processes at work here will seem familiar to scientists. But there might well be disagreement among observers over just how these processes were initiated and governed. For me, this place is another witness of God at work. I see the great Creator’s hand in the order and organization of an environment such as this.

There is, of course, no point in starting an argument over how Craters of the Moon came to be.

But I would invite you to consider the origins of this place, or one like it, for yourself. The United States has many areas like this where the natural world goes about its business with comparatively little interference from humans. You can find them in other countries as well.

Look at places like these and then ask yourself: On what evidence or basis can God be ruled out as the Creator? When people insist that the earth is strictly a product of some great cosmic accident, I often wonder what evidence they have that makes them say God was not involved.

I don’t have to see His own hands to see His hand at work here. In this place, it seems self-evident.

(See the video, “Life on the Moon,” on YouTube at https://youtu.be/2UqFCSK_IMA)

Last of the Summer Days

Among the sweetest and most poignant of childhood memories are those end-of-summer days, just before the time when we had to go back to school.

The loss seems almost tangible as one more golden day slips away. Those milestones mean fall is coming—the season when things die as a prelude to winter.

That may sound gloomy, but how you feel about summer slipping into fall, then slipping into winter is probably influenced by your outlook on life. I learned as a child that winter has an important purpose and is a blessing in its own way.

Yet I fight this idea in my heart even as some people revel in winter’s opportunities for outdoor recreation. I grew up largely on the Texas Gulf Coast, where the climate is much the same as in the prime vacation areas of Florida. I never really experienced winter until I was nine years old—the year my widowed mother enrolled at a university in the Mountain West, where her studies would change her life. The experience of living among the mountains changed my life.

The first harbinger of change came one afternoon in October as I walked home from school. Snowflakes fell from the sky, and I had worn only a shirt. I couldn’t wait to get in out of the cold.

I quickly learned that there could be fun in the snow, and I learned to deal with winter conditions. But secretly a part of me always longed for the warmth and sunlight of summer.

In a way our lives are like that. We can waste a lot of time longing for the return of the warmth—for the restoration of conditions we liked better.

But the cycles of the seasons are a fact of life, and it is also a fact that simply living on this earth sometimes brings conditions we would prefer not to face.

One of those is aging. As our summer passes, we slip into fall and our bodies start to grow old. Maybe we can’t hear and enjoy music the way we used to. Maybe we can’t see to sew or carve or draw or build as we used to. Maybe getting down on our knees is a decision to be considered carefully because we won’t be able to get up again without something to hold onto.

Eventually winter comes, and for many living things, life is over.

But one thing I learned about winter back when I was a boy is that the winter part of the seasonal cycle carries with it the promise of spring to follow. In the never-ending climate cycle on earth, new life will come.

Our hope for new life after death is not in some seasonal cycle, but in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In coming forth from the tomb, after being crucified, He gained the power also to bring all of humanity forth from the grave. We will live again. (See John 5:28-29, 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:19-22; Revelation 20:6; 1 Peter 1:3.)

An ancient American prophet named Mormon wrote that those who will accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ in their behalf can have hope “to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise” (Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:41). Everyone who has ever lived on this earth, no matter when or where, will be given the opportunity by God the Father to accept salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, as the last days of summer slip by and I feel fall coming on, I remember that lesson I learned long ago. Winter will inevitably come, but the promise of new life is eternal.

(Please see video, “Last of the Summer Days,” at https://youtu.be/0DDp_ld0nLE)

Light and Shadow and Truth

When I was in my twenties, I was a lot more sure of many things than I am now, decades later. I still believe in the same spiritual guideposts—God, the importance of faith to achieve true success in this life, the need to love in order to grow spiritually and intellectually. But I don’t think I understood back then all the ways that faith and love can be applied to meet the challenges of life. I’ve still got a lot to learn about that.

It’s interesting how the way we see things changes as we get more experience.

When we’re less experienced, we often see things in black and white. The black and white view can leave us with very strong impressions, but too often it misses nuance or details that give us a more complete picture.

The best of the cinematographers back in the 1930s and 1940s knew this. Watch one of the black and white classics—Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane—to see how filmmakers used light and shadow, the contrast of light and dark, to create or enhance a dramatic mood.

What do you feel when you look at the photograph above, with its contrasts deliberately enhanced?

But looking at only the black and white tones can leave out a lot.

Now look at the color version of the photograph. What do you see that you couldn’t see before? The beautiful flower that was hidden in shadow? The way that varied, multi-colored stones all contribute their distinctive strengths to the whole structure?

A lot of our attitudes are like that. Many of mine were sharply black and white when I was younger. But when we look at things only in black and white, we miss much of the nuance or detail that can help us fully understand the problem or challenge we face and its possible solutions. We don’t see the rose or the different strengths of the multi-colored stones.

Too often we can be blinded by our own biases. Sometimes they are so firmly entrenched that we can’t root them out.

Single-minded activists are especially at risk of this weakness, whether their cause is environmental, social, political, racial, or religious. Seeing only black and white, they may demand that everyone else pay as much attention to the highlighted areas as they do. They may miss details in the shadows that can lead to workable, practical solutions.

But, oh, it is so hard to give up some of our biases! I know it is for me. We are emotionally tied to them. There’s risk in letting go, for if our biases are false, then what can we safely hold onto? It requires humility and faith to accept that what we have believed is wrong, and that what we did not want to accept, or what we may never have considered before, is true.

Not long ago, my wife and I lay outdoors under the stars at night to watch a meteor shower. Our backyard was a world of black shadows, dark and darker. When you see those old color movie scenes of people outdoors in the moonlight (Maybe the cowboy and his sweetheart down by the river?), you know they’re false. We don’t see color by moonlight alone. Those scenes were shot through a dark filter in daylight or artificial light.

We need to remove the dark filters in front of our mind’s eye if we want to see the truth. We need to ask: Am I looking at this situation only in black and white?

When we look at people in these stark contrasts, comparing their actions with our own more righteous or intelligent choices, or with what we think they ought to be doing, we have a hard time seeing the full picture. Being able to see the full picture of people’s lives was what made Jesus Christ able to love the sinner while admonishing them to “sin no more.” (See John 8:3-11.)

When we’re serious about wanting to follow Jesus, we will make the effort to overcome the harsh black-or-white perspective that renders judgment based only on our own experience. We will learn to view other people and their lives through the richly hued filters of faith and love.

 It’s an effort that can take a lifetime. I know.

Why Are You So Mad?

We see the heart-breaking, smiling image of a little child who has been shot and killed in a road-rage incident.

We see airline passengers or store customers restrained or arrested because they could not discipline themselves.

We see wrathful, partisan politicians wanting to discredit or destroy someone who has the temerity to disagree with them.

We see people belittled, ridiculed, and taunted on social media when their ideas do not agree with mainstream thinking.

If you read the news each day, you quickly learn that there is a lot of anger out there. People get mad about one thing or another, and many people are mad about several things all at once.

When their anger boils over, it can lead to tragedy, injury, or loss. 

People get mad for reasons ranging from true injustice to trivial annoyances. Maybe they were beaten or robbed, they were treated unfairly because they are members of some minority group, they were cheated by somebody they trusted. Or maybe they’re just mad because their morning latte wasn’t prepared the way they like it.

Uncontrolled anger that brings tragedy and spreads venom doesn’t solve any problem. It is the rational, measured response that gets results.

Most of us will acknowledge that uncontrolled anger is not a good thing. But many people will say, “I can’t help it. That’s just the way I am.”

This is an excuse. You can help it. You can change. It may not be easy. Most of us, including me, face one kind of challenge or another that we need to acknowledge and deal with. This takes work. But the alternative is to live a diminished life because we won’t make the effort necessary to change.

None of us, including me, likes to acknowledge this truth. But the longer we go on avoiding it, the more we cheat our best selves.

Anger is damaging in human relationships and cultures not only for what it causes but also for what it prevents. It keeps us from making a better world.

A devil would want us to be angry all the time so that we don’t make the effort to fix what is wrong, whether it is in us or in our circumstances. A loving Father would want us to spend time instead making needed changes so He can bind up our wounds. The doctrine of Christianity is: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16). Other faith traditions also teach in their doctrines that controlling and eliminating our own anger gives us greater spiritual and intellectual power.

There is a lesson in modern, revealed scripture that illustrates this. In the Book of Mormon story, a family is warned by God to leave Jerusalem before the Babylonian conquest. As they wander in the wilderness, led by a prophet named Lehi, they must hunt food to survive. When the prophet’s son Nephi—evidently a principal hunter for the group—breaks his fine bow, their situation looks bleak. His brothers become angry at him, angry at their father for leading them into the wilderness, angry at God for their situation. Even Lehi, the leader, becomes discouraged and complains about their circumstances. This changes nothing.

But Nephi’s response is different. He finds some good wood, makes a new bow and arrow, then asks his father to ask God where he should go to hunt for food. God answers. (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 17:18-32.) 

Nephi showed faith and willingness to act, and God responded to his need.

God knows there will setbacks in life. They are part of our mortal journey. He wants us to overcome them. But there is little He can do to help us when we’re mad and taking our anger out on the rest of the world. In that emotional state, we aren’t able to hear what He would whisper to us through His Holy Spirit.

After decades of experience in mortality, I am still learning that if I will repent of my anger and humbly ask for His help, He will speak to me in the way best suited to my needs. It may be through someone else, but He will hear and help me.

What about you? What are you so mad about? Would you like help with your problem, or do you just want to go on pouting about it? Are you willing to change?

Which Flower Is the Most Beautiful?

My wife loves flowers. It’s a struggle to maintain a garden in the area where we live, with its short growing season, the hardy, fast-growing weeds, along with deer and other critters who like to dine on plants at her expense. But outside our door every morning, her flowers offer a day-starting burst of beauty.

It’s hard to decide which are more beautiful: Lilies? Irises? Columbine? It’s impossible to judge between them. I joke that I have a nodding acquaintance with flowers; I can’t tell you all about them, their names, their characteristics, but I can appreciate the beauty of every one of them.

My appreciation for flowers started early because both of my grandmothers loved flowers. Like others of their generation, they grew things they could eat, but they had to have flowers as well—definitely roses, but also irises, daisies, hollyhocks, and others.

Living in semitropical areas of the world introduced me to a whole different range of flowering plants. It convinced me that there is far more beauty in this world than I will ever have the opportunity to experience personally.

Some hardy flowers can be found almost everywhere. Sunflowers, growing in the harshest of environments, constantly turn their faces to the sun anyway.

Some flowers are unwelcome, and I don’t always understand why. Who was it that declared dandelions are weeds and must be eradicated? I understand that they’re pushy and want to take over too much space. That can’t be allowed. But have you ever studied the beautiful, divinely designed structure of their yellow faces?

Jesus used flowers to make a point about how much Heavenly Father cares for all His children, in one of my favorite scriptures, Matthew 6:28-33. “. . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; . . . Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

“. . . If God so clothe the grass of the field, . . . shall he not much more clothe you, o ye of little faith? . . .

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all of these things shall be added unto you.”

The magnificence of His flowers shows the love and care He put into their creation, but He cares even more diligently and tenderly for us, His children.

Do we appreciate His other children as much as we do His flowers?

There are powerful forces in the world today that work to divide us. Most of us see ourselves first as members of ethnic, gender, social, political or economic groups, before we think of ourselves as children of God.

That is the devil’s work. Jesus did not think of people in terms of divisions that separated them. In fact, He often condemned those who sought to put people in different classes. When we ask that the needs of our class or group be served first, we may be asking that something be taken away from the rest of humanity.

In His Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: . . . the meek: . . . they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: . . . the merciful: . . . the pure in heart: . . . the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:3-9). He made no distinction as to class, color, wealth, or popularity. He pronounced blessings on those who sought the things they saw in His divine example.

Modern revealed scripture offers this insight on our Redeemer’s loving generosity toward mortals on this earth: “he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . and all are alike unto God” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33).

The world would be better if we all stopped looking at people as members of ethnic, gender, social, or political groups and began looking at them as children of God with equal opportunity to come unto Him.

In the eyes of the world, every flower is not clothed the same. But in His eyes, there is beauty and value in every one.

Cheating Themselves?

A few days ago in reading the news, I came across one of those articles listing tweets about marriage that are supposed to be humorous. One said something like this: “It’s strange—on the first  date you pick a side of the bed and that’s where you’ll be for the rest of your life.” 

Really? On the first date? And that’s funny? 

I come of a generation that was taught sex is to be reserved for marriage. The current generation may see things differently, of course, but I believe that in making sex just another recreational social activity, they are cheating themselves out of blessings that God meant for His beloved children to have in a marriage relationship. 

One of the tenets of my faith is that Heavenly Father meant for marriage to be only between a man and a woman because a loving, committed husband and wife can complement and build each other in ways that are not possible through any other relationship. 

When God gave Adam and Eve to each other as companions in the Garden of Eden, Adam said that “a man shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). That “cleaving” means more than just sharing the same bed. It means they each become the most important person in the world for the other. 

Neither the man nor the woman is more important in the relationship, and neither is to be a dictator. In my opinion, any man who says he loves a woman but wants to dictate how she may live does not understand what love is and does not deserve to be a husband. 

It seems to me that God did not mean a sexual relationship to be only for the purpose of procreation. It can be very pleasurable and should be enjoyed with the person to whom you are committed in marriage. But I believe there are good reasons that our Heavenly Father wants us to have sexual relationships only within marriage. Here are two.  

First, sexual intercourse is the means He has designed to create mortal bodies so that the spirit children who are living with Him now may have the opportunity to come live on earth. The power to create bodies for them is not a gift we should toy with idly. Every child of God who comes to live as a mortal on earth deserves two loving parents who are willing to cleave to each other and no one else. 

Second, being “one flesh” means more than just a sexual relationship. Your wife or husband should be the person you treasure above anyone else, through all of the hard times as well as the good, the person whose welfare means more to you than even your own. Sex is a loving gift that you give to that one person. 

I’ve heard people say that you have to find out before you marry if the two of you are “compatible.” I’ve been married for 53 years. You don’t find out about compatibility in bed. Compatibility is an excuse that some people use to skip the formal commitment that should come before a sexual relationship. Skipping over that commitment is like saying to someone, “Sure, I think you can satisfy me physically—but I don’t care very much about the rest of you or your hopes and dreams.” 

You don’t build that kind of relationship by choosing a side of the bed. You build it by cleaving to each other as you do to no one else in this world. 

People who use sex as some kind of social coin to buy intimacy are cheating themselves. They may never know the full sweetness of sharing loving intimacy with the one person who means everything to them. 

Waters of Life


Soon these fields

Will put on green

Answering the water’s 

Reviving touch. 

For water is life,

Sent by God

To bring new birth

From winter’s sleep.

As well our souls

Will draw new breath

Answering our Lord’s

Reviving call.

For He is life, 

By His Father risen

To bring new birth

From death’s long drought.

His word is water, 

Our spirit’s life,

Springing forth to slake

Immortal thirst.

It’s as He said

At Jacob’s well: 

We ask in faith,

His waters flow.

(See John 4:5-14.)

Freedom, Part 2: Toxic Activism

Forty years ago, while reporting on an environmental symposium at a major university, I heard a conversation among colleagues in which one expressed simmering frustration that he could not make any headway with his proposals to stop environmental damage.

With some bitterness, he said he hoped the fossil fuels would all be used up soon because then everyone would be forced to recognize that he had been right all along and they would be forced to do just as he had been advising. The consequences for others or for society as a whole did not seem to concern him.

While I believe strongly in protecting the environment, I could never join a cause led by a person like him. He practiced what I call “toxic activism.”

You know people like him. You’ve met them. At a family reunion they would be the in-law who insists on digging up the hatchet that everyone else in the family buried 30 years ago.

When toxic activists have what they consider a worthy cause, and when they’re in your office, your neighborhood, your church, or your children’s group of school parents, they’ll use that cause to bludgeon you.

No matter what the cause—civil rights, the environment, liberal or conservative politics, gender politics and equality—if your response doesn’t match theirs in intensity, then you obviously are an uncaring and ignorant individual. Ironically, they may accuse you of being so focused on your own small world that you have no time for the more serious cosmic problems that should concern you. Toxic activists are very good at laying guilt trips on others.

There are many people, including me, who would be glad to help correct injustices and help undo damage that has been done in our culture or our environment. I could gladly give money and time to efforts that would help cure some of these ills.

But please don’t come at me with your list of demands. Please don’t tell me what burden of guilt I must accept on behalf of my social class, my faith, or my ethnic group before we can work together on solving the problem at hand. That’s no way to begin a relationship that will require us to trust each other.

What is it you want to happen? Do you want my cooperation? Or are you more interested in scoring some ideological points? If you try to persuade me instead of accusing me, you’re much more likely to win my support. I have time to listen to reason on an issue, but I have too little time to spend it with someone trying to bait me into contention.

Let’s talk. I am completely in favor of “equality,” “justice,” “mutual support,” and “cooperation.” But I am not likely to take up your cause unless I know just how you are applying those terms and what specific outcome you are seeking.

Getting in my face is no way to get into my heart and mind.

In my faith, we have a book of scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a record of revelations given by God to modern prophets. One of those revelations teaches that power and influence in the hearts of others can never be maintained over the long term through compulsion or domination; this can only be done through persuasion and patience. (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-44.)

Look, I’m willing to be your friend. I’d like to help your cause if it is just. But if you want to win my help, present your case and let me decide according to the moral principles that guide my own thoughts and actions. If your course of action agrees with those principles, you’ll have my support.

Perhaps there are areas or causes in which I could do more. Perhaps there are aspects of some problems that I do not understand. I am open to listening and learning.

But I am not open to being threatened or coerced.

I will be the one, not you, to decide on my course of action, because I will be the one, not you, who will be judged by God for them.

Freedom, Part 1: “Tolerance” and “Diversity”

These two words, tolerance and diversity, don’t mean the same things now that they did when I was young. Back then, they dealt with concepts that could unite us. Now they seem to be used in ways that divide us.

This is a piece I have put off writing for a long time because some people won’t like what I say.  But unless we can talk about the different ways people see tolerance and diversity, the different ways we use those words will continue to keep us at odds with each other.

When I was young, tolerance meant we would accept the fact many people see norms of behavior, dress, morality, or decorum differently than we do. Tolerant people could interact without confrontation when someone disagreed about those norms.

These days, being tolerant seems to mean that we must be willing to embrace other peoples’ norms of behavior, morality, or decorum even when those may be foreign or offensive to us. On the other hand, if the norms and standards that our consciences have dictated for a lifetime differ with those of special identity groups, then we must put our beliefs aside.

Diverse” and “diversity” as seen in a 2000 edition of a dictionary.

Diversity used to mean we are all very different in our society, and that’s OK.

Now it seems to mean that some diverse people are more equal than others. I must accept their cultural norms and beliefs, but my beliefs cannot be tolerated, and if I insist on holding onto them, I must be punished.

There are a variety of social issues or causes in which this double standard may be seen. To pick one: If my beliefs are not acceptable to LGBTQ people, I may be labeled “homophobic.”

Homophobia is a made-up word that suggests someone hates or fears those who classify themselves as LGBTQ. I neither hate nor fear people who live a homosexual lifestyle. There’s no reason I could not work with them on an equal footing. I hope they have all the happiness and success in their lives that they desire. It is only fair that they enjoy all the same civil rights I do, and I fully support legislation guaranteeing them those rights.

But there are some philosophical points on which I disagree with them based on my faith. I believe that the inherent individual right to freedom of thought entitles me to my own beliefs, but I will not try to dictate how others must live.

As a matter of faith, I believe that every human is an eternal being having a mortal experience. Inside every one of us is an eternal spirit child of God that existed with Him before we were born here and will go on existing after our mortal bodies die. I believe our eternal spirits have certain characteristics, including gender, that have always been part of us and will go on being part of us when we leave this life. What we do here will not change that characteristic. (For more on this, see “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng.)

Some who live as a different gender than they were born will say it is not a matter of their choice, but they were born in a body that does not match who they really are. I cannot believe that. Neither do I believe in common gender stereotypes. We are all mixtures of many physical and personality traits, and no one mix of these traits can define either male or female. No one can truly say, “I am female (or male) because . . . .” I believe that our eternal spirits are what they are and that God does not place some of them in the wrong bodies by mistake.

But what I may believe has no power to govern others. Many may disagree with me, and it is not my right or purpose in life to make them conform to my beliefs. That would be tyrannical. Faith should never be an excuse for tyranny. I believe that one of the first laws of heaven, in God’s plan for His children, is that we each will have our own individual agency. Each of His children has the responsibility to choose how we shape our lives and behavior on this earth, and ultimately each of us will be answerable to Him for our choices.

Others will, I hope, respect my agency just as I respect theirs.

It does not matter how just or right you think your cause to be, whether it is racial or gender equality, environmentalism, economic parity, or something else; trying to force others to adopt the beliefs and behaviors you prefer is a violation of their civil rights on earth and their agency in eternity. God offers all of us choices, but never compels us to do as He says.

Too often in our society, people who identify themselves with one movement or cause or social group try to coerce others into accepting their beliefs and behaviors by labeling and shaming, by humiliating or ostracizing them, or by compulsion through legislation. This is wrong. If we cannot persuade people to our way of thinking or behaving by reasoning with them, we have no right to punish them for having different views.

Here’s a concrete example that may be controversial for some. Suing a wedding photographer or cakemaker whose personal religious beliefs make him or her uncomfortable serving an LGBTQ wedding doesn’t seem to be about achieving equality, especially where comparable services are available from someone else. It seems to be about forcing one’s values on someone else in violation of that individual’s conscience.

Many of the problems of divisiveness in our world today could be solved if we could go back to those earlier definitions of tolerance and diversity. We can recognize that other people who do not share our backgrounds and experiences will see many things differently than we do, but we can nevertheless commit ourselves to interacting and working with them in a spirit of peace and cooperation.

Extremism Is the Enemy

One day in in the summer of 1966, I walked through the capital of a Latin American nation during the inauguration of a new president. Armed soldiers lined the avenue into the center of town, spaced about 50 feet apart, to guard against the trouble that was expected.

The election had been hotly contested and divisive. The leading candidate of one party had died under mysterious circumstances, but his brother had stepped in and won the presidency. There were innuendos of corruption on both sides.

There were rumors of a planned insurrection, an uprising to disrupt the inauguration and prevent the new president from taking office. In addition to soldiers and military vehicles in the streets, the air force was on the alert, ready to crush any rebellion.

I congratulated myself on coming from a country where this could never happen.

Now consider January 6, 2021. A mob invaded our nation’s capitol building, known throughout the world as a symbol of law, order, and liberty. The mob’s purpose: Disregard law, order, and liberty to overturn a legitimate election. They were driven by a repeated lie that this election was somehow stolen, and they refused to believe the truth despite repeated vote recounts and reviews that disproved the lie. Greedy political opportunists, people who wanted those votes in a future election, just kept on feeding them the lie.

Rabid partisans on both liberal and conservative sides blame the Capitol insurrection on “extremists.” They’re right. To get a good look at those extremists, they need only gaze into the mirror.

Both major political parties have extremists within their ranks who refuse to consider any compromise. To compromise is to deal with the devil; the hyper-partisans demonize people who do it.

In reality, it is the extremists at both ends of the political spectrum who are doing the work of the devil. Left or right, they would willingly impose tyranny to achieve their ends.

In the 1960s, that Latin American country represented the realities of political extremism.

It was one of several countries under military rule in the region where I lived as a missionary. The military had taken over the government in the name of law and order. Under martial law, people were forbidden to gather on the streets in groups of more than four, so when we left a church meeting, the congregation had to carefully break into small groups. Two people were not allowed to ride on a motorcycle because the passenger, even if dressed like a woman, might turn out to be a gunman with an automatic weapon to shoot up the neighborhood police station. Motorists had to drive with interior lights on at night so that police could see who was in the car. People in public could be stopped and questioned by the military or the police.

I wonder how many U.S. citizens would be willing to live under similar conditions? Those who have demanded that troops be called out to impose martial law on troubled cities in our country should be careful what they wish for.

At the other extreme, communist terrorists in that Latin American country were working to foment revolution and undermine the government.

I once had to help organize a funeral for a member of our church congregation—a father of several young children—who had been assassinated by terrorists. On patrol as a national policeman, he had caught them placing a bomb at the home of a prominent military officer. The country’s military could not root out the guerrillas from their strongholds in the mountains. We saw their spray-painted slogans, often with anti-U.S. messages, everywhere—including across the street from the house where we lived.

One day I met one of the communists dedicated to bringing socialism to the country. He was a well-educated intellectual. We talked to him about Jesus Christ and the holy scriptures, and he replied that he didn’t believe in those teachings. “These are the books I live by,” he said, as he pulled three off his shelf and handed them to me. They were Spanish versions of books that had been published by an economic institute in Moscow, U.S.S.R. They laid out the vision that the communists wanted to impose on other countries.

For a time, I worked in and around a very poor barrio in that capital city. Houses were made of scrap metal and cardboard. The sewers were open trenches running in the streets. Residents could look up from their homes and see the beautiful, artistic building housing the city offices—la Municipalidad. That barrio was nicknamed “Red Square” because some said that all the communists had to do to raise an angry crowd was harangue its people about how they were being exploited by the elites in their country, how the elites should be forced to share their land and their wealth. Sometimes such gatherings got out of hand—which was probably what the agitators intended.

The history of political conflict in that Latin American country was long and tragic, with ugly atrocities committed by both sides as they dedicated themselves to destroying the opposition. (Parenthetically, the U.S. was not an innocent bystander in the conflict, having backed the military government.)

Activists in the United States often assert that freedom of speech includes the right to demonstrate in public streets and areas anywhere, anytime, including in front of private residences. If others are endangered as a result, or if their rights are taken away, too bad. Few of those activists seem willing to acknowledge that when they tap into others’ anger at injustice they may light a fire they cannot control.  If the activists have integrity, they will recognize the possibility of hooliganism and take steps to cut it off. And if their cause is just, they will stick to the truth in their protests, offering more light than heat.

Demagogues are skilled at manipulating people’s fears or feelings of injustice. They whip up an angry crowd by convincing people that they are being cheated, that they are being exploited, or that the have-nots are coming to take away what they hold dear—their property, or the place they have claimed for themselves in society. In the Capitol riot, we all saw this demagoguery in action, provoked by a persistent lie—that an election was “stolen.”

Government by, for, and of the people cannot survive in the United States of America with this kind of dishonesty undermining trust in its processes. Politicians who support false myths of corruption for their own advantage are disloyal to the spirit of the Constitution, which I believe was inspired by God.

Surely He would not want His children warring among themselves over who is more fit to rule. Surely He would want us working together to “form a more perfect Union” (Preamble to the Constitution).

The far left and far right extremes in our country are not seeking union. They want dominance for their philosophy and their biases.

I know people of good character and sound judgment on both sides of the political divide who are passionate and firm about what they believe. There’s nothing wrong with that. But once the votes have been counted and recounted and the result is the same, it’s time to work together in a reasonable manner and drop the self-serving myths.

History suggests that corrupt politics and political opportunists will always be with us. But at least for now, in a time of national pain and sorrow, true patriots should be helping with the healing and be willing to move forward.